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Retriever to the Rescue

HOW MILLIE THE LABRADOR CONTRIBUTES TO CONSTRUCTION WORKPLACE SAFETY

If you’ve driven Alabama roads recently, whether on a family road trip or on the way to a jobsite, you may have seen an effective — not to mention adorable — billboard, featuring Millie the AGC safety dog, promoting work zone safety.

retriever to the rescuePHOTO COURTESY OF MORRIS KING

There were “16 billboards, from North Alabama all the way down to South Alabama, with Millie the safety dog’s image on it,” says Morris King of Vulcan Materials, a member of multiple AGC chapters.

“It was really incredible,” he continues, “because so many people — who are not even in the construction industry — were talking to me about it. And now all of a sudden you’ve got this conversation about safety.”

BARK TO THE BEGINNING

Millie, King’s 5-1/2-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever, was originally trained to be a hunting dog. It was early in that training when King learned she was a special dog that had a lot more to give than just retrieving downed birds.

“I thought,” King says, “I can do more with Millie.”

Following up on this hunch King put her into a different kind of training, from which she emerged as a certified therapy dog. In this capacity she would (and still does) regularly see patients in the surgical trauma intensive care unit at USA Hospital in Mobile, Alabama.

“When we enter a hospital room in the trauma unit,” says King, “we’re seeing patients in bad shape, emotional family members and a lot of unknowns. But when we bring a therapy dog into the room? It changes things.”

King says it’s a detour from their normal activity.

“A patient may be under stress or they may be in pain, but suddenly that stress and pain go away” with Millie’s sweet disposition allowing them to forget their pain for a few precious moments.

Next, King started taking pictures of Millie dressed in costumes. Some days she looked like a nurse. Sometimes she wore tie-dye tshirts. The pictures are included on calling cards that she leaves with hospital patients.

“As I started dressing her up,” he says, “I thought: This dog trusts me. She’ll let me do just about anything.”

CANINE IN CONSTRUCTION

As the current associate president of the Mobile section of Alabama AGC, King is active in association events. This included a recent work zone safety campaign, National Work Zone Awareness Week, a concentrated effort by construction firms, associations and agencies to bring national attention to motorist and worker safety.

retriever to the rescueWorking in tandem with Charlotte Kopf, the Mobile section manager of Alabama AGC, King — and by extension, Millie — created a fun but powerful social media campaign to help construction workers return safely to their families each and every evening.

“We initially wanted children involved [in the safety messages and posters],” King says, “as a creative way to make people pay attention in work zones and slow down.”

Enter COVID-19 in the early months of 2020.

Because of the pandemic, says Morris, “nobody wanted to get their children involved, so we decided on the next best thing: Millie. We teamed up with Tractor & Equipment Company here in Mobile, and we placed Millie on some excavators and bulldozers. We started taking pictures, and they were kind of comical.”

But they got people talking about safety.

“If you’ve got a fun picture of a dog, people suddenly take notice. Maybe there is a group of construction workers on a jobsite or in a locker room getting ready for work. Randomly, someone brings up. ‘Hey, did you see the poster of the dog standing on the bulldozer with a hard hat on?’”

In addition to Vulcan’s safety department distributing the safety messages in poster form throughout its office in Birmingham, they have been rolled out via a robust social media campaign which includes the local and statewide AGC websites, Facebook and, of course, on Millie’s own Instagram account.

RUFF WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT

How then did Millie end up on Alabama highway billboards?

“One day,” King says, “I took a picture of Millie with three of my neighbor’s children — all with hard hats and safety vests on — posing on a bulldozer. We submitted that picture to the Alabama Department of Transportation early in the spring of this year.”

Safety posters often get glazed over, but if you bring a dog into the picture, “you’ve got people talking about safety and driving slow in work zones,” says King.

And, that’s the idea: to bring attention to construction worker safety and help ensure crew members get home each evening.

“We’re trying to personalize it. When people get injured or killed in a highway work zone, that’s somebody’s family, somebody’s son or daughter, wife or husband.”

FUR-TURE PLANS

“We’ve got plans to continue this campaign,” says King, “and maybe later this year or early into next, we’ll get some children involved.”

Millie and Mo Dream Big
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BE SURE TO FOLLOW MILLIE’S JOURNEY ON INSTAGRAM AND SEE HER IMPACTING SAFETY IN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY, HELPING PATIENTS AT HOSPITALS, AND PLAYING WITH NEIGHBORHOOD KIDS. HER HANDLE IS @MILLIE_USA_THERAPY_DOG.